Which Law Schools Are Like Whittier?

Whittier Law School announced it will no longer enroll 1L classes but will graduate the students it has. It is the first fully accredited law school that is straight up closing, i.e. it isn’t merging with another school or finding some other way out of its problems. It’s going for good.

Whittier is not the school I would’ve predicted to be the first to close. Certainly it was in a high-risk category, but I thought others were in direr straits, and Whittier isn’t even freestanding. Charlotte lost its federal loan funding. The ABA censured Valparaiso (pdf), put Arizona Summit on probation (pdf), and told Ave Maria it was out of compliance with its standards (pdf). La Verne lost its provisional accreditation once, and the fates of (un)merged Camden and Penn-State Dickinson appear sealed. Indiana Tech immolated on the launch pad. These days the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s Web site looks more like an academic police blotter than an accrediting body’s homepage.

The question all this raises is: What law schools might be in situations similar to Whittier’s?

We can answer by comparing Whittier to other law schools on various dimensions, particularly debt, employment outcomes, and estimated revenue from full-time students paying full tuition. (Others have already done most of the work on bar-passage rates.)

This past year, U.S. News ranked Whittier as number two for average disbursed graduate debt, $179,056, but its figure was 20 percent higher than last year. It’s a volatile measure, but this year some of its notable nearest neighbors were Thomas Jefferson, San Francisco, American, Golden Gate, John Marshall (Chicago), and Florida Coastal. Most of these law schools featured prominently on debt rankings in previous years.

A couple years ago, I applied the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rule to all law schools—not just for-profits—and found that Whittier’s 2014 graduates would need to earn more than $80,000 to avoid a failing grade. Four years of failing would mean losing access to federal funding, and nearly a quarter of Whittier’s graduates were totally unemployed after graduating. That figure hasn’t improved since (~23 percent for class of 2015 grads). We’ll soon learn how bad the class of 2016 is doing, but Whittier’s full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required employment rate has been so abysmal that it ranks near the three law schools in Puerto Rico. (Yes, bar-passage rates feed into this outcome.)

The one metric where Whittier wasn’t doing as badly as many other (private) law schools was its cumulative losses in tuition revenue from full-time students. In 2015-16, it took in nearly $6 million, but in 2011-12 it received $13.5 million. The 56 percent drop puts it at number 64 among private law schools (though the top schools, Vermont, Brooklyn, WMU Cooley, and California Western, reported more students receiving grants than they had full-time students, which would probably bump Whittier up a few notches). 56 percent is rough, but a bunch of private law schools lost even larger shares of money—and some took in only a few hundred thousand dollars in full-time tuition revenue last year.

Here’s what the situation looks like for all private law schools, sorted by the percent decline. Note that for once, I am including the two private law schools in Puerto Rico because I feel their performance is indicative of the worst. These figures are adjusted for inflation.

1. Vermont 10,860,119 -5,422,079 -16,282,198 -149.9%
2. Brooklyn 10,782,779 -3,509,376 -14,292,155 -132.5%
3. WMU Cooley 1,557,772 -478,900 -2,036,672 -130.7%
4. California Western 25,045,967 -897,940 -25,943,907 -103.6%
5. St. Thomas (MN) 5,743,284 37,941 -5,705,343 -99.3%
6. Appalachian 9,093,131 125,300 -8,967,831 -98.6%
7. Washington and Lee 6,903,362 185,988 -6,717,374 -97.3%
8. Tulsa 4,599,211 142,116 -4,457,095 -96.9%
9. DePaul 14,469,813 681,750 -13,788,063 -95.3%
10. Albany 19,114,661 1,952,910 -17,161,751 -89.8%
11. Widener (Commonwealth) 9,036,506 965,862 -8,070,644 -89.3%
12. New York Law School 41,803,974 4,530,080 -37,273,894 -89.2%
13. Northeastern 4,283,568 511,720 -3,771,848 -88.1%
14. Syracuse 8,186,463 1,132,272 -7,054,191 -86.2%
15. Florida Coastal 33,851,726 4,908,200 -28,943,526 -85.5%
16. Duquesne 12,035,146 1,749,704 -10,285,442 -85.5%
17. Ohio Northern 8,637,468 1,301,500 -7,335,968 -84.9%
18. Pacific, McGeorge 11,571,986 1,786,138 -9,785,848 -84.6%
19. Campbell 15,454,205 2,407,975 -13,046,230 -84.4%
20. Regent 2,904,848 453,570 -2,451,278 -84.4%
21. Mercer 15,437,642 2,719,980 -12,717,662 -82.4%
22. Lewis and Clark 8,873,433 1,611,792 -7,261,641 -81.8%
23. Case Western Reserve 8,801,033 1,705,620 -7,095,413 -80.6%
24. St. Louis 18,241,963 3,605,940 -14,636,023 -80.2%
25. Southern California 15,531,071 3,075,166 -12,455,905 -80.2%
26. Charleston 10,513,451 2,206,380 -8,307,071 -79.0%
27. Faulkner 7,911,732 1,822,600 -6,089,132 -77.0%
28. Seton Hall 13,687,741 3,163,116 -10,524,625 -76.9%
29. Southern Methodist 6,211,571 1,448,898 -4,762,673 -76.7%
30. Charlotte 35,712,406 8,517,688 -27,194,718 -76.1%
31. Catholic 10,588,407 2,528,010 -8,060,397 -76.1%
32. Dayton 8,333,640 1,997,240 -6,336,400 -76.0%
33. Wake Forest 7,890,988 1,923,210 -5,967,778 -75.6%
34. Ave Maria 9,074,461 2,293,830 -6,780,631 -74.7%
35. Widener (Delaware) 15,458,193 3,989,430 -11,468,763 -74.2%
36. Western State 5,821,292 1,517,250 -4,304,042 -73.9%
37. Loyola (LA) 15,784,287 4,123,950 -11,660,337 -73.9%
38. Touro 11,489,969 3,078,650 -8,411,319 -73.2%
39. Quinnipiac 4,800,111 1,297,323 -3,502,788 -73.0%
40. Boston University 9,809,602 2,762,480 -7,047,122 -71.8%
41. Gonzaga 4,965,149 1,423,890 -3,541,259 -71.3%
42. Golden Gate 14,318,443 4,263,350 -10,055,093 -70.2%
43. Chicago-Kent, IIT 12,104,788 3,979,870 -8,124,918 -67.1%
44. Pace 11,888,268 3,993,088 -7,895,180 -66.4%
45. Atlanta’s John Marshall 16,084,711 5,613,700 -10,471,011 -65.1%
46. Mississippi College 12,823,594 4,506,420 -8,317,174 -64.9%
47. Washington University 11,705,942 4,181,706 -7,524,236 -64.3%
48. Stetson 22,598,743 8,212,224 -14,386,519 -63.7%
49. Valparaiso 15,710,039 5,732,824 -9,977,215 -63.5%
50. Northwestern 28,591,723 10,570,038 -18,021,685 -63.0%
51. Fordham 38,473,640 14,340,740 -24,132,900 -62.7%
52. Oklahoma City 10,178,065 3,810,630 -6,367,435 -62.6%
53. Elon 3,280,392 1,233,358 -2,047,034 -62.4%
54. Capital 7,447,505 2,820,480 -4,627,025 -62.1%
55. Cardozo, Yeshiva 21,942,175 8,838,095 -13,104,080 -59.7%
56. John Marshall (Chicago) 25,576,716 10,437,840 -15,138,876 -59.2%
57. Villanova 13,909,852 5,785,440 -8,124,412 -58.4%
58. Thomas Jefferson 17,301,310 7,207,200 -10,094,110 -58.3%
59. Samford 11,286,294 4,822,480 -6,463,814 -57.3%
60. Santa Clara 16,091,642 6,913,980 -9,177,662 -57.0%
61. San Diego 19,178,183 8,350,101 -10,828,082 -56.5%
62. Roger Williams 12,099,840 5,362,380 -6,737,460 -55.7%
63. St. John’s 18,866,076 8,366,530 -10,499,546 -55.7%
64. Whittier 13,502,174 5,989,950 -7,512,224 -55.6%
65. Seattle 15,747,526 7,248,700 -8,498,826 -54.0%
66. Creighton 7,850,075 3,625,800 -4,224,275 -53.8%
67. Hofstra 23,812,510 11,012,750 -12,799,760 -53.8%
68. Drexel 2,205,873 1,056,750 -1,149,123 -52.1%
69. Drake 6,852,106 3,342,476 -3,509,630 -51.2%
70. Vanderbilt 5,452,630 2,670,720 -2,781,910 -51.0%
71. Loyola (CA) 29,845,203 14,914,900 -14,930,303 -50.0%
72. Detroit Mercy 15,782,962 7,903,740 -7,879,222 -49.9%
73. Michigan State 12,439,389 6,453,892 -5,985,497 -48.1%
74. Tulane 13,779,350 7,311,590 -6,467,760 -46.9%
75. Barry 6,669,908 3,727,776 -2,942,132 -44.1%
76. Chicago 12,401,406 7,083,930 -5,317,476 -42.9%
77. Arizona Summit [Phoenix] 12,828,297 7,562,152 -5,266,145 -41.1%
78. St. Thomas (FL) 16,799,445 9,990,390 -6,809,055 -40.5%
79. South Texas 17,958,443 10,704,870 -7,253,573 -40.4%
80. Pontifical Catholic 8,442,917 5,132,426 -3,310,491 -39.2%
81. Nova Southeastern 24,168,295 14,852,135 -9,316,160 -38.5%
82. Marquette 11,533,718 7,312,710 -4,221,008 -36.6%
83. Miami 34,008,712 21,832,718 -12,175,994 -35.8%
84. San Francisco 15,483,541 10,028,040 -5,455,501 -35.2%
85. Western New England 3,630,743 2,375,332 -1,255,411 -34.6%
86. Chapman 13,208,102 8,859,600 -4,348,502 -32.9%
87. New England 12,668,264 8,665,140 -4,003,124 -31.6%
88. Suffolk 27,272,730 18,739,094 -8,533,636 -31.3%
89. Cornell 18,586,044 12,775,953 -5,810,091 -31.3%
90. Boston College 16,102,424 11,277,420 -4,825,004 -30.0%
91. Inter American 6,898,330 5,040,051 -1,858,279 -26.9%
92. Loyola (IL) 4,583,328 3,351,312 -1,232,016 -26.9%
93. Southwestern 20,968,555 15,449,600 -5,518,955 -26.3%
94. American 31,922,411 23,868,936 -8,053,475 -25.2%
95. Notre Dame 7,908,972 5,918,036 -1,990,936 -25.2%
96. Denver 17,465,736 14,026,950 -3,438,786 -19.7%
97. Emory 8,896,804 7,211,400 -1,685,404 -18.9%
98. Richmond 7,438,055 6,232,200 -1,205,855 -16.2%
99. Georgetown 52,209,277 43,872,470 -8,336,807 -16.0%
100. Baylor 5,148,380 4,777,042 -371,338 -7.2%
101. St. Mary’s 14,146,074 13,128,560 -1,017,514 -7.2%
102. Columbia 38,452,666 35,989,800 -2,462,866 -6.4%
103. Yale 15,515,266 14,918,850 -596,416 -3.8%
104. New York University 46,942,488 46,870,700 -71,788 -0.2%
105. Pennsylvania 22,739,776 23,802,872 1,063,096 4.7%
106. Willamette 3,947,758 4,251,625 303,867 7.7%
107. George Washington 32,385,362 35,444,670 3,059,308 9.4%
108. Pepperdine 11,117,822 12,539,100 1,421,278 12.8%
109. Harvard 41,997,217 51,660,654 9,663,437 23.0%
110. Duke 3,507,038 5,136,813 1,629,775 46.5%
111. Howard 5,501,024 8,221,176 2,720,152 49.4%
112. Stanford 11,569,636 17,613,762 6,044,126 52.2%
113. Liberty 96,858 189,372 92,514 95.5%
114. La Verne 171,882 3,369,344 3,197,462 1860.3%
115. Belmont 4,805,640 N/A N/A
116. Concordia 203,301 N/A N/A
118. Indiana Tech 94,080 N/A N/A
119. Lincoln Memorial 387,480 N/A N/A
TOTAL 1,672,895,574 849,546,398 -828,839,677 -49.2%
10TH PERCENTILE 4,583,328 203,301 -14,636,023 -89.3%
25TH PERCENTILE 7,890,988 1,822,600 -10,094,110 -76.9%
MEDIAN 12,253,097 4,518,250 -6,759,046 -58.4%
75TH PERCENTILE 17,465,736 8,517,688 -3,438,786 -32.9%
90TH PERCENTILE 29,845,203 14,918,850 -371,338 -3.8%
MEAN 14,674,523 7,199,546 -7,270,523 -36.3%

(Source: ABA, author’s calculations)

Obviously full-time, full-tuition revenue doesn’t tell all of the story—and not just for part-time-focused operations like WMU Cooley—but it definitely illustrates the kind of circumstances many private law schools find themselves in. The same must be true for public law schools. It’s in this context that we can ponder the solvency of other at-risk law schools. Whittier is the first big closure, but it won’t be the last. Universities whose law schools are losing lots of money and have poor employment and bar-passage outcomes are watching Whittier and its neighbors.

States’ Projected Lawyer Surpluses Deteriorate for 2022

…Is up on The American Lawyer.

I’m proud to say that unlike last year, there is no “Mississippi problem,” in which the net lawyer growth rate in any state exceeded its ten-year annual job growth rate, yielding a negative replacement rate, sky high surplus calculations, and a lot of time spent explaining math to the media.

Too Bad TJSL’s Grads Can’t Get a 2/3ds Write-Off

Oh, I’m sorry, “restructuring.”

That’s all that really needs to be said about Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s “Restructuring Support Agreement” with 90 percent of its bondholders. I’ve refrained from editorializing on the most of troubled law schools, but an $87 million write-off for its Xanadu-esque building sounds high. I suppose it beats a chapter 7 corporate dissolution; there is still plenty of unsubsidized Stafford loan margin to be captured, after all.

TJSL’s students on the other hand at least get PAYE, which they’ll need because last year they left with an average disbursed debt of $180,665. In order to avoid loan cancellation, even without accrued interest, graduates would need to make $182,000 from their very first repayment. After that, it’s twenty years until the government forgives their balances and sends them a tax bill for it.

But I’m sure employers are committed to ensuring that TJSL grads receive more than triple median household income the day they walk through the door.

Forget Indiana Tech’s Low Enrollment…

…And look at La Verne’s. (These data are for its full-time program, by the way.)

La Verne Application Data

I’m surprised that the school stayed open after getting only 209 applications last year.La Verne Enrollment Data

The ABA never should have restored La Verne’s provisional accreditation in 2012. Rescinding it in 2011 caused a nosedive in applications and a surge in out-transfers. It never recovered, and there’re no reasons to believe 2013 will be better.

If La Verne stays open, there will be a lot of empty seats in classrooms, but if it closes, the good news for the students is that they can claim an administrative discharge for their law school loans from the Department of Education—unless they transfer to another law school.

The LSTB’s Unauthorized Guide to State Bar Reports on the Legal Profession’s Problems

…Because really, who would authorize a guide on state bar reports?

As of last week, we now have at least four state bar association task forces/special committees/working groups/whatever offering their opinions on what’s wrong with legal education, law school debt, lawyer licensing, and the legal profession. Here is a list of the reports and links to my posts on them:

The two biggest themes, as far as I’m concerned, are what the task forces/committees/working groups/etc. thought about (1) student loan debt, specifically whether it’s passed onto clients and whether it should be dischargeable in bankruptcy, and (2) revising legal education and law licensing requirements to include more skills training over theory-heavy classes and whether that will result in better employment opportunities for new lawyers.

The NYSBA Task Force’s report didn’t say that student loan debt is passed onto clients, and it even chided lawyers who claim they want practice-ready law graduates but hire from elite law schools anyway. Most of the Task Force’s recommendations were tentative, but they did include changing licensing requirements to include assessing professional skills, adding a sequential licensing system, and adopting the Uniform Bar Exam. Instead, they got mandatory pro bono requirements. The quality in reasoning in subsequent state bars’ reports goes downhill from here.

Massachusetts’ Task Force determined—okay that’s being generous, it really assumed the conclusion—that poor training causes new lawyer underemployment because medical and dental schools require a lot of skills training and their graduates aren’t underemployed. Its report neglected to mention that those professions thrive with practitioner shortages or that aging boomers will need regular medical checkups. The Task Force said very little on student loan debt, and it advised transforming the third year of law school into a residency-type experience ala medical and dental school.

The Illinois Special Committee claimed that salaries for new lawyers are too low to support their student debts, public interest employers have difficulty paying new lawyers enough to cover their debts and suffer high turnover, and underpaid lawyers don’t serve the poor or “middle class” in favor of higher-paying lawyer positions or leaving law practice altogether. The Special Committee also believed that lack of practice-readiness also contributed to underemployment. Its recommendations on reforming federal student lending, however, were fairly reasonable.

Finally, California’s Task Force subtly concurred with the Illinois Special Committee’s reasoning on student loan debt, but it leaned more heavily on the practice-readiness problem by claiming that firms unfairly pass their new lawyers’ training costs onto clients. Better training would make new lawyers more productive (raising their incomes to repay their student loans) and simultaneously reduce costs to clients (I’ll discuss this nonsense later). The Task Force recommended requiring more skills courses and pro bono work of law students and new lawyers. This report is easily the most poorly thought-out of the four.

Law School Debt

Contrary to what I may have implied last week, none of the state bars’ reports explicitly say that law school debt is directly passed onto clients. However, the Illinois Special Committee report effectively makes that argument with its gathered testimony as listed in its executive summary (1-2):

  • Small Law Firms Face Challenges Hiring and Retaining Competent Attorneys

“Many small law firms are unable to pay the salaries new attorneys need to manage their debt. As a result, turnover at such firms is high, forcing those firms to spend additional time and resources training new attorneys (compounded by the problem of inadequate readiness for practice upon graduation).”

  • Fewer Lawyers are Able to Work in Public Interest Positions

“Attorneys with excessive debt are less able to take legal aid or government jobs which, in Illinois, have starting salaries between $40,000 and $50,000 per year. Public interest offices that raise their salaries to accommodate debt and attract talented lawyers are unable to hire as many attorneys, reducing the services these offices can provide.”

  • New Attorneys Have Too Much Debt to Provide Affordable Legal Services to Poor and Middle Class Families and Individuals

“Salaries among law firms primarily serving the legal needs of middle class individuals and families are also inadequate to support the debt loads of new attorneys. … Because debt makes it difficult for attorneys to survive at that salary level, young attorneys move quickly to higher paying legal sectors if possible, and, if not, many leave the profession.”

  • As Fewer Attorneys Find Sustainable Jobs in the Private Sector, More Attorneys Enter Solo Practice

[Note: This contradicts the first point on small practices being unable to hire lawyers. It’s a lot cheaper to work for a small firm than start a small practice.]

  • Attorneys Report that Debt Burdened Lawyers are Less Likely to Engage in Pro Bono Work
  • Debt Drives Young Attorneys Away from Rural Areas

“Already, rural areas of Illinois have significantly fewer lawyers per capita than more populated areas, because it is more difficult for lawyers to service significant debt in rural areas.”

[Oh God, don’t abuse attorneys per capita again…]

  • Heavy Debt Burdens Decrease the Diversity of the Legal Profession

[Because there’s nothing minorities need more than low-paying legal work.]

  • Threats to Professionalism

The quotations dramatize the Special Committee’s arguments effectively, but it applied good facts (I’m assuming) to bad theory. Imagine you’re a public interest firm and you have to raise your salary offers to $50,000 to attract lawyers to help them pay off their debts. This reduces the funds available to hire more attorneys, reducing the total quantity of legal services provided. Thus, it’s an indirect lawyers-pass-their-student-loans-onto-clients argument. It looks like this:

Student Loan Debt's Impact on Legal Services (Silly)

(The crayoned stars are included for illustrative clarity and because they’re cute.)

This is your garden variety price floor, the same kind that haunts minimum wage arguments. The red area that gives state bar associations frowney faces is the legal transactions, and hence, lawyer employment, that would be possible without student loan debt but are lost because of it. Remove the debt, and suddenly lawyers can happily work in low-paying jobs.

But there are at least three problems with this argument as characterized in the public interest example: (1) On page 3, the Special Committee stated that “Funding for public interest jobs is unstable,” indicating that such jobs are neither as plentiful nor as secure as the testimonials claim; (2) there are plenty of underemployed law school graduates who would love to take those kinds of jobs at $40,000 to $50,000 per year, like the solo practitioner on page 22 who made only $15,000, and we’re not told why they’re not; and (3) my criticisms of IBR notwithstanding, the Special Committee basically said that IBR doesn’t work because lawyers are scared to use it, even though for public interest lawyers the loans would be canceled after 10 years without any tax penalty. Indeed, trivializing IBR is really the only way the Special Committee could claim student debt reduces quantity of legal services.

Actually, I put up all those quotes just to show that they’re not so much evidence of student debt’s impact on the profession but are really just evidence of low demand for lawyers and low wages’ impact on the profession. In other words, even without student loan debt, these problems would still exist. No one complains that McDonald’s has low pay and high turnover—if anything, that’s built into its business model—but when lawyers dare to take higher-paying jobs than serving the poor and “middle class,” or worse, abandon their law careers, then it’s an insult to the profession. How dare they rationally choose higher-paying work? Don’t they realize that they’re lawyers?

Yes, they do realize it, but they also realize that working in law doesn’t pay very well, and they’re better off doing something else that pays more. I might be overselling this since I’m not the one gathering testimony (the new lawyers I’ve talked to have all said they’re on IBR—without reservations), but it’s unlikely that student debt is the substantial factor in lawyer underemployment here. I certainly concede that it doesn’t help.

Skills Training

I don’t want to spend too much time rehashing the argument from last week, but training costs are baked into all prices for final goods and services (i.e. not second-hand stuff). Normally, if you make the workers pay for the training—even if it’s good training—in theory they won’t pay for it if it won’t raise their incomes. The fact that lawyers’ incomes aren’t high is due to lack of demand for lawyers and the fact that some occupations might be more productive than law, not want of skills training. The theory the state bars (save New York) rely on here is identical to the one they use for student loan debt, except they’re substituting training costs with debt.

Training Costs' Impact on Legal Services (Silly)

For example, returning to the California bar’s task force report:

We emphasize, above all, that we expect future improvement in practice-readiness will prepare new lawyers for the changing legal job market far better than they are today, which will help them become productive lawyers with the capacity to begin repaying educational debt at the earliest opportunity, and ultimately will lower costs to clients, who, in today’s legal market, are too often forced to bear the costs of training young lawyers, either in the form of increased fees or ineffective lawyering. (17)

Let’s think this through: If lawyers are trained well, they will be more productive, so they will serve more clients effectively than poorly trained lawyers. So far so good. It won’t necessarily reduce costs to clients, both because they’re already “forced to bear the costs of training young lawyers” and because they’d be charging market-rate prices. However, if lawyers are selling their services at the market rate, then skills training won’t raise their wages much to help them to pay off their loans, and it certainly won’t result in all law school graduates being employed as lawyers. J.D. overproduction and all that.

I add again that better training is good, but it won’t create jobs as the California, Illinois, and Massachusetts bars believe.


I think I’ve discredited the theories the state bars are working under. Here’s mine: Demand for legal services is low during a depression and is also income elastic, meaning rich people lavish money on lawyers for the same reason that they lavish money on shiny rocks and pieces of canvas that some European splattered paint all over hundreds of years ago. Similarly, poor people spend less on lawyers because they need shelter, food, clothing, medical care, etc. more urgently. Yes, America is in fact a very poor country.

Here’s what I mean:

Income Elasticity of Demand for Legal Services (Silly)

(Again, illustrations included for clarity.)

The red portion that gives the LSTB a frowney face is due to poor people being poor. That’s bad, and it also means they won’t hire lawyers. Note also that the slope of the line is greater than 1, which is to show that I’m theorizing that legal services are a “superior good,” which means that when income increases the quantity purchased increase more quickly. If we want poor people to afford legal services, then the state must pay for it.

Thus, in the real world, when people lose their jobs or their incomes fall due to our leave-no-rentier-behind policies, they do not hire lawyers. State bars should stop internalizing external causes of lawyer unemployment, and should admit that there are too many law schools. And if you think I’m a pessimist, then what does that make the authors of these bar reports that treat poverty as a permanent, unsolvable blight on humanity?

CalBar Wants Solos to Go Down Fighting

…Is really the most charitable thing I can say about the State Bar of California’s Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform (Task Force), which recently issued its recommendations for requiring “preadmission competency skills training” for lawyers. Proposed changes to the licensing requirements include:

  • 15 units of competency skills training during law school
  • 50 hours of legal services devoted to pro bono or modest means clients, either pre- or post-admission
  • 10 extra hours of post-admission Minimum Continuing Legal Education, specifically focused on competency skills training

I’ve already opined on the futility of mandatory pro bon/low bono requirements, so the Task Force’s decision to copy New York’s new requirements is an inauspicious start. In fact, the Task Force managed to produce the most conservative response to mass lawyer unemployment of any state bar thus far:

We call for no radical change in legal education as it exists today. (2)

We do not embrace or endorse the idea that law schools are somehow “broken.”12 [citing Failing Law Schools] We take that thesis into account only as a marker of the vigorous debate about change now underway within the academy itself, as it is in the profession. (4)

Long ago, when American lawyers entered the legal profession by reading law in the office of a practicing lawyer, as Abraham Lincoln did, the training regimen for new lawyers was integral to law practice. That venerable tradition has long since disappeared, never to return, and we do not propose to try. (18)

I doubt it’s in the Task Force’s mandate to advocate sweeping changes to lawyer licensing, but even the ABA’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education appears more open-minded. The Task Force never discusses tuition increases, the state’s defunded and expensive public law schools, the government’s lending program that enables just about anyone to go to law school, or why California’s state-accredited, unaccredited, and correspondence law schools all charge significantly less than its ABA law schools do.

I’m not against skills training. Neither are law schools, which are spending more and more money on staff to teach it. You can imagine where the money comes from. The Task Force believes that due to (1) “the economic climate,” and (2) “client demands for trained and sophisticated practitioners fresh out of law school” (page 1), that more people than ever are graduating from law school and starting small and solo practices without any training. Certainly (1) is true.

What’s laughable is the Task Force’s insistence that there’s some kind of legal sector market failure due to lack of skills training, as though more new lawyers would have jobs if they were trained better. The Task Force arrives at this conclusion by basing its foundational assumptions on the Illinois State Bar Association’s Special Committee on the Impact of Law School Debt on the Delivery of Legal Services’ (Special Committee’s) Final Report and Recommendations, which I covered here. The Task Force states:

[W]e are recommending something that is designed to improve the employability of law school graduates. The scarcity of jobs for new lawyers in recent years was not simply a statistical phenomenon, isolated from the issue of employability, and driven purely by macro-economic factors outside of the legal profession. For many years before the recent downturn in the economy, there was widespread concern that the cost of training new lawyers was being foisted onto clients, which played a significant role in driving up legal costs. If, in the future, new lawyers come into the profession more practice-ready than they are today, more jobs will be available and new lawyers will be better equipped to compete for those jobs. Critics of improving competency skills training as too costly overlook this key point. They also fail to consider the role that inadequate practice-readiness among new lawyers has had in contributing to the difficult job market that these lawyers face.44 (14) [Emphases LSTB]

Ever walk into a Starbuck’s and demand a discount because you felt that the cost of training new baristas was being foisted on you and was even playing a significant role in driving up the cost of coffee? No? So where does the Task Force get its novel contribution to political economic thought: the lack-of-practice-readiness theory of lawyer unemployment? Footnote 44 takes us back to page 3 of the Illinois Bar’s Special Committee’s Final Report, which declares:

The problems with the current legal education model go beyond the difficult economic climate. In fact, the Special Committee received testimony that the tight job market facing recent law school graduates may have—at least in part—resulted from the inadequate training of law students for the jobs that are available. The majority of lawyers who testified indicated that new lawyers are not adequately prepared for practice, and that hiring partners have consequently become less willing to hire new lawyers, preferring instead those with a minimum of several years of experience. [Emphasis Original]

In other words, the Task Force subtly bases its argument on the testimony of unnamed hiring partners in a different state who have a clear financial interest in shifting the costs of training their employees off themselves and onto student debtors. These partners also apparently benefit from a buyer’s market where they can choose between experienced practitioners and fresh graduates.

Ri~ght. Sounds like the problem is lack of demand for new lawyers.

Setting aside its insistence that the requirements will be cheap and easy to meet, the Task Force nevertheless fails to recognize that there is no free lawyer training. Even if you make the law students pay for it (with no government subsidy to public law schools), then in normal circumstances they would evaluate whether law school and lawyer skills training would increase their net lifetime incomes before applying. The net income increase comes from clients’ demand for lawyers. Consequently, it’s the clients who ultimately pay for the training, just like in every other industry. The only difference is that in reality, lifetime income information is either unavailable or presented to applicants in a distorted fashion to induce them into applying. Aside from economic depression, this is why new lawyers are not employed.

And what does the Task Force say about student loan debt?

Due to the staggering cost of the education, those who cannot pay for law school on their own or by tapping family wealth are graduating heavily burdened by debt, only to face one of the worst employment markets for recent law graduates in decades. While we in the profession see and are taking steps to respond to the crisis in access to justice,­9 the economics of legal education point to another developing crisis, this one more insidious — the emerging crisis in access to legal education. (4) [Emphasis LSTB]

Footnote 9 see-cites the Special Committee’s report, implying that the Task Force concurs with Illinois that lawyers pass their student loan debt onto their clients, twisting education debt (a genuine insidious crisis) into a problem for poor people’s “access to justice.” Thus, the problem isn’t that there are more law schools and law students than jobs (that would mean the system is broken and the Task Force adamantly denies that). Rather, the fear is that student debtors are magically able to force people to pay them money as shown by high student loan default rates. Expensive law schools also deny poor people the opportunity of reducing their lifetime incomes, never work as lawyers, and never really use their legal educations in their careers.

I can see it now:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to pay an IBR income surtax to the government for 20 years until ED cancels your Grad PLUS loans and makes you pay income tax on the shortfall.”

By adopting the Illinois Bar’s Special Committee’s dubious reasoning (and unfortunately not its somewhat reasonable conclusions), the Task Force is recommending CalBar set new lawyers up for failure—and making them pay for it.

Chronicle Publishes Law School Dean’s Argument From Authority

Via the ABA Journal, Katherine Mangan, “America’s Longest-Serving Law Dean Defends the Value of a Law Degree,” Chronicle of Higher Education.

The news is Rudy Hasl, the dean of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, whose former career services staff claimed under oath that she was told to juke graduate employment data, is stepping down after 32 years of law school deanery. To honor him, the Chronicle captures his parting thoughts because he’s a law school dean, which means anything he says should be taken with equal validity to what anyone who researches the issues says.

This has been a tumultuous period for law schools. It’s not that we haven’t gone through similar periods. It’s just that the trough is a little bit deeper and the issues are a little more difficult than they were in previous times when we reached those bottoming-out periods.

So the problems are quantitative, not qualitative. The fact that the applicant nosedive is occurring during a period of McJobbery for college graduates instead of high employment doesn’t faze the dean. However, we have to credit his gall for looking at employment data and saying, “BAH!”

I remind students that what law schools are providing is a set of skills that are valued in our society and that will ultimately lead to a meaningful employment opportunity. To try to measure that by what job you have on graduation, or even nine months later, doesn’t make sense.

In 2010, only 46.2 percent of TJSL’s graduates were employed long term; 19 percent were unknown. In 2011 that dropped to 37 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively, but don’t worry 31.4 percent of them were unemployed and seeking. While we should credit TJSL for doing a better job of finding its unemployed graduates for the purposes of the employment survey, it doesn’t look as though society values their skills much.

Whether legal education “leads to” a meaningful employment opportunity is a claim that’s difficult to substantiate. Those making it must demonstrate that (a) the graduate’s job requires a law degree, or (b) the substantive knowledge gained in law school is a substantial factor in the graduate’s employment. Contributions that supplemental knowledge like computer programming or chemical engineering adds to a job must be discounted as well. This does not bode well for law degree holders, which is not to say they’ll be unemployed forever (the economy has to recover someday, right?), just that many of them will find their earnings no higher than college graduates’. They’ll be IBR-ing away their law school loans while think tanks tell them that people in their positions should pay more because they’ve gotten a free lunch.

The good news for TJSL, though, is that under Dean Hasl’s stewardship the law school is solving the profession’s “diversity problem.”

The legal profession has been slow to respond to the increasing demand for diversity. Students of color made up 10 to 12 percent of the student body when I arrived here, at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in 2005, and they’re a little over a third of our student body today. For me it’s an important social issue that we produce individuals who can work within their communities to provide service and develop leadership … I’m optimistic that we’re producing graduates who will be quite attractive to firms and have a great future ahead of them.

Tell that to all of TJSL’s unemployed graduates. They’re unlikely to ever work in firms, and in 2011 only 11 out of 236 graduates were employed full-time/long-term at law firms larger than 10 lawyers. A mere two of them were at firms larger than 50. Law school deans’ optimism is not valid grounds for future predictions, nor does it put food on graduates’ tables.

The we-need-more-minorities plea never fails to displease me. The idea that minorities are better off and can better serve their communities with mountains of law school debt is toxic garbage. Those interested in making the profession more accessible can do so by … making the profession more accessible: eliminating the three-year graduate education requirement, focusing licensing along practice lines rather than generalist lines. These policies would make it a lot easier for minorities, and everyone else, to become lawyers, and the only people who lose out are the handsomely compensated deans.

Speaking of which, Rudy Hasl did quite well for himself a-deaning. According to Guidestar, in 2011 TJSL paid him $366,514 in base compensation plus $51,332 in other compensation. If you think that’s too low for a law school dean, fret not, for TJSL also extended him a $977,179 loan for “housing assistance”—something I’ve never seen in my admittedly scant experience with Guidestar reports. Such a large loan for “housing assistance” suggests that he’s not living in the 21st century’s answer to Pruitt-Igoe (a fucking depressing documentary I wholeheartedly recommend).

Maybe instead of allowing Dean Hasl to dictate an editorial with unsubstantiated claims to readers, the Chronicle should ask him how he intends to repay such a generous loan while in retirement.